Friday, September 14, 2007

Augustine on Evil

We've already seen that philosophers of all metaphysical stripes have agreed that there is no logical incompatibility involved in the simultaneous existence of evil and the God of Christianity. This is in large measure because Alvin Plantinga, in his free-will defense, demonstrated a plausible reason for God's allowing for evil.

As satisfactory as is this recent Christian response (to the logical argument from evil against the existence of God), it is worthwhile to at least mention some other, more historical Christian responses.

Augustine of Hippo (who lived between AD 354 and 430) is considered one of Christianity's great thinkers. He advanced the notion that evil is not a 'thing' of itself, but rather a privation or lack of something good. Evil is real--it has existence--but not as a substance or stuff. Evil, according to Augustine, is the absence of the goodness that should be, much as blindness (while real) is not a thing but the absence of the sight that was intended (for that eye).

Not all philosophers accept Augustine's explanations (primarily because of their own various views of the nature of reality in general), and most see his treatment of the problem as somewhat incomplete. Nonetheless, his now-ancient thoughts bear considering.

It does seem correct that evil is better understood in negative rather than positive terms--as an absence and not as a created entity. And this, of course, has apologetic importance. Though God knew that by creating free moral creatures He was allowing for (or even ensuring) the actualization of evil (because those free moral creatures would choose less than the perfect good), evil is not a 'thing' that He created.

Secondly, if evil is best understood as a privation (or a parasitism) of good, then the existence of evil argues not against God's existence but for it. That is, the problem of evil presupposes--is dependent upon--the existence of a thing called 'good.' And while this thing called 'good' fits in perfectly with the Christian understanding of the world, there is no logical grounding for it on an atheist or naturalistic view of reality.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rick - "there is no logical incompatibility involved in the simultaneous existence of evil and the God of Christianity."

Then why is it an issue?
Why has it been debated for centuries?
An 'only good' God and the existence of evil are incompatible. PERIOD. God is either the creator of everything (including evil) or he is not. Seems rather straight forward incompatible to me... and many others too.